My Trip To Japan

How about that for a grade school title? All in all it was a interesting week and a half. Not as exciting as some of my trips, the Japanese have such a orderly society. I would have liked to stay longer but I don't think I could live there. Its a country were all of the men and some of the women are always running scrambling to keep up. It is land of contrasts, with few natural resources , too many people and beautiful mountains and empty forested hills.

The trip there was quite easy. I had difficulty getting reservations for a direct flight, and also I did much research on the Internet to find some traditional Japanese accommodation with an osen (hot spring). I seems all the good ones are booked (the Japanese do like to plan their holidays and their weekend months in advance) I did finally get into a famous Inn through a Japanese friend of a friend. I also wanted to see Kyoto and Nara the historic capital of Japan. It was also hard to find a hotel as this is a premier tourist spot for the Japanese to visit their roots. The local Toronto Japanese tourist agency came to the rescue and found me a room at a fairly good hotel. Tokyo was easy as I booked through the conference to which I was giving a speech. My airline ticket was finally booked through Korean airlines . Now no jokes in bad taste about missiles and flying too close to North Korea. Because of my long legs and wide shoulders I try to fly business class for long trips, so even though the stop at Soul Korea adds about 6 hour travel to the already 19 hours flying time the wide and almost horizontal reclining seats make the trip bearable. Also the flight is completely none smoking so the air is breathable.

The trip to Japan;

The service and the food on Korean was excellent. I only wish we didn't have to stop and change crew at Chicago (my least favorite airport) but even that went off with only a short extra delay. The next day is sort of a fog I slept woke up for food slept woke up for food, slept again, I did see on the black sea below a city of fishing boats (many hundreds maybe a thousand) each each a bright light like a galaxy of stars. Landed and had a shower at Soul (boring cement buildings as far as the eyes can see, I hear the center of Soul is slightly more attractive. Got back on the plane and slept half the time to the Tokyo airport. Retrieved my luggage and went quickly through customs and immigration, no problems.

The airport is a good 1 hour by fast train from Tokyo the trip takes you through some rice growing paddies usually each farm is only a few acres but because of government subsidies the farmers can afford to have a good life with an expensive car in the driveway. After the green sections the train passes through endless city blocks of apartments, buildings, factories and such.

At last the Tokyo station, the largest and busiest train station in the world. I had reserved a seat on the famous bullet train to Kyoto and I had half an hour to make my connection. As usual I had over packed, I always do, so here I am lugging a ton of luggage rushing from one end of the station to the other. Luckily there are some English signs to give me the occasional direction. I made it with 10 minutes to spare! You can check your watch by the time the train comes to the platform it is exactly precisely the time on the ticket. On my way to Kyoto you guessed I slept most of the two and half hour train ride. Showed a map to my hotel to the cab driver who managed to get me there. By the time I had booked into my hotel showered changed it was 7pm local time zone 14 hours and one day different from Toronto. I had dinner at the hotel walked for a couple of hours and then went back to the hotel and slept until 6 the next morning. I don't think I have ever slept so much. The plus side is that I didn't have any noticeable jet lag and I had adjusted my internal clock and had no difficulty sleeping or waking until I was back in Toronto.

The Next Part: The Real Trip Not Just Me Sleeping complete with food which moves on your plate

First Morning Bright and Sunny

Kyoto was never bombed by the allies during world war 2. I think this is why except around the train station its architecture is less ugly and more integrated then Tokyo and its surrounding cities. It is also the old capital and center of Japanese civilization for over a thousand years. It is renowned for its historic sites, hospitality, good food and is also the home of the Geisha girls. The best way to see much of Kyoto is the old fashion way by foot .

Hospitality and service at the hotel was great, it was impossible to tip the bell boy in this case bell girl=woman. Tipping in Japan is seldom done and it is best not to try, the Japanese are so polite that they embarrass very easily, especially if they can not communicate with you fully in English. It is I, that with absolutely no Japanese should be embarrassed !

After a typical hotel mixed American Japanese breakfast I put on my walking and armed only with a sketch of a map in a tourist brochure, started out. Like most tourist maps it was easy to find shopping and craft centers but quite another thing to find the an actual cultural site using a map with areas missing distorted in time and space. After walking for 40 minutes past a few craft shops marked on the map. I came to my first temple. Not a famous one, not even on the map but there was a wedding going on which made for interesting photos of which none except for one turned out. On to the next stop "This pleasant canal-side stroll follows the Philosopher's Walk from the Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, to Nanzenji Temple." Sounds easy!

It would have been except that I took the wrong foot path into one of the seven hills of Kyoto like Rome only higher. Higher and higher through a beautiful mixed forest by several springs up past people having picnics, each turn expecting to see a view of the city below but more forests up past a group of elderly hikers, up up up, passed by a couple of joggers "ohayo gozaimasu". Up hill for the better part of a hour at last stairs about a thousand and then out onto a spectacular lookout with Kyoto spread out below. At the summit there was already a couple of dozen people (you have to get up early to beat the crowds). One of the civilized things about the Japanese society is their food in this case their boxed lunches. Everybody except for myself had brought a boxed lunch. From local takeout counters far below you can purchase a wide varity of foods; sushi, rice, grilled, fried, tampura, smoked, pickled, fish, meat , vegetables, each packaged neatly in separate compartments within plastic, wooden or more expensive lacquered boxes. The food in general was less expensive better prepared and fresher then in Tokyo. It was here that I had the freshest sushi that I have ever eaten. In fact some of it was so fresh that it was still moving. I am eating this wonderful fresh with the salt of the ocean, sushi at a bar and out of the corner of my eye I see something on my plate moving! When I face my plate all is quiet and, then a slight motion the tail of one of the shrimps was twitching. No no squeamish readers the head and guts were removed and the shrimp was butterflied, now that's fresh!

So I had to starve until I reached the base camp a couple of hours later at which I had proceeded on to view the temples along the Philosopher's Walk . The majority seem to treat religions not very religiously but as a practical necessity of life funeral weddings luck that sort of thing. The two main religions are Shinto "worship the spirit god Kami, whose nature is manifested in all things around them - rivers, mountains, trees, rocks and animals... " Confucianism from China has had a heavy influence on Shinto. The other main religion is Zen Buddhism a religion closer to my nature. In the pictures on my web site you can see a couple of Zen rock gardens. These are not only piles of gravel they have a structure a form. You have to change the nature of your mind before you can perceive the true form.

On my way between sites I was politely stopped by a young male. Being a travel wise I immediately protected my wallet wonder what he was selling. It turned out he was a shinto lay person who didn't want money but wanted to prey for-with me. Sure I can use all the help I can get. It turned out I had to repeat after him and reflect for a moment or two. After it ended he asked if I had felt anything, like all meditation it had a slight calming effect, the cynic would say it was only jet lag. Along the walk I also stopped to look and buy some of their exquisite but expensive handicrafts. I purchased a set of saki cups. I also stopped at the Nippon Center of Ancient Art and several other famous temples. The giant gold (and red and yellow) fish in one of the pictures followed me around the pond blowing bubbles and straining to get out of the water I think they wanted to be fed.

Enough about the scenery around Kyoto, only being there can do it justice. The night light is bustling with activities, the geisha girls all dressed up going to work. The geisha is not a call girl but a well trained personal classical entertainer/server.

These are some pictures to go with my story of my November trip to Japan.
Clicking on an image will enlarge it.

Shinkansen (Bullet Train )
Kyoto from the summit
There is more to Sumo Wrestling then two fat men in thongs

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